Article: Climate Change at Work: How companies can adapt


Climate Change at Work: How companies can adapt

How climate change is affecting workplaces and what employers must do.
Climate Change at Work: How companies can adapt

The month of April marks the arrival of summer heat across the Indian subcontinent, with temperatures often surpassing 35 degrees Celsius in many states. This year's World Day for Safety & Health at Work focuses on "The Impact of Climate Change on Occupational Safety & Health," highlighting the urgent need to minimise the effects of climate change on workplaces, whether in offices or on the shop floor.

Ensuring a safe and healthy work environment, a fundamental right of all workers, means addressing the dangerous impacts of climate change. India is witnessing increasingly frequent and intense heat waves, along with higher daily peak temperatures. These trends, linked to climate change, pose serious risks to human health.

Climate change is a relentless force. It fuels excessive heat, extreme weather events, rising UV radiation levels, and worsening air pollution. This directly impacts workers' health and safety, putting jobs at risk, and fundamentally alters workplace conditions across industries.

Also Read... Climate change heats up worker safety concerns

The ILO launched a timely report on the World Day for Safety and Health at Work 2024, titled "Ensuring Safety and Health at Work in a Changing Climate." This report reveals crucial new data on the impact of climate change on workers, further emphasizing the urgent need for action.

The report's findings are startling: 2.4 billion workers globally face excessive heat on the job, a number that has skyrocketed 35% in the past two decades. This heat stress has severe consequences – over 26.2 million workers suffer from chronic kidney disease linked to workplace heat exposure. Tragically, excessive heat contributes to approximately 19,000 deaths and 22.87 million injuries among workers every year.

The threat isn't just heat.  UV radiation impacts 1.6 billion workers globally, leading to 18,960 work-related deaths from skin cancer. Additionally, 1.6 billion outdoor workers are exposed to air pollution, contributing to 860,000 work-related deaths annually.  Even vector-borne diseases pose a risk to outdoor workers, linked to 15,170 work-related deaths each year.

Each climate-related hazard poses a significant threat on its own. However, their interconnected nature amplifies the danger,  potentially creating an unprecedented cocktail of risks for workers worldwide. The true scale of this threat remains unknown, underscoring the multi-dimensional challenge facing us. Climate change isn't just an environmental crisis; it's a pressing health issue, a workplace crisis, and fundamentally, a matter of social justice. 

Understanding heat stress 

Let's understand heat stress: It occurs when our body's natural ability to regulate its temperature fails, causing an imbalance between heat gain and heat loss. If unaddressed, the body temperature can rise above the normal 37°C, leading to serious health impacts like dehydration, heat cramps, heat exhaustion, and potentially fatal heat stroke. Recent research reveals a worrying reality: heat stress in India has increased by nearly 30% over the past four decades, impacting more and more workers nationwide. 

Understanding thermal comfort is crucial for tackling heat stress. It refers to the state of mind where a person feels satisfied with the surrounding temperature. Importantly, it's not just about comfort - thermal conditions directly impact our buildings' energy consumption, our health, well-being, and even our workplace productivity. Research by ISHRAE reveals that overheated workplaces can reduce performance by 6%, while overly cold offices lead to a 4% drop. 

The urgent need for action

Industries have a responsibility to take urgent action to counter the impact of high outdoor temperatures. Here are some crucial steps to consider:

Analyse Heat Stress: Use reliable tools like the Wet Bulb Globe Temperature (WBGT) index to measure heat stress levels and identify areas where workers are overexposed.

Engineering Controls: such as Reducing the radiant heat emission from hot surfaces, insulating hot surfaces, Shielding, ventilation and air conditioning, reducing humidity, provide rest areas.

Administrative measures: such as acclimatization, shortened exposure time and frequent rest breaks, regulating “Rehydration” requirements & frequency, cool drinking water dispensers, employee Awareness & training to identify early symptoms of dehydration, Medical Team support from clinics and Emergency Response Plans.

PPE and management oversight: Employees should hydrate before entering the shop floor and should take short “micro-breaks” to cool and rehydrate, preferably with electrolytes (which contain sodium and potassium). Evaporative Cooling Clothing can be another option, Cool Helmet and neck and head cooling pads can be used too.

Climate change action must prioritise the safety and well-being of workers – they are at the centre of this crisis. It's time to make worker safety a top priority and implement effective measures to mitigate climate risks. Lives depend on our collective action – the time to act is now.

Read full story

Topics: Technology, #ESG, #SustainabilityForPeople

Did you find this story helpful?



How do you envision AI transforming your work?